Heart attack vs. Sudden Cardiac Arrest Do You Know the difference?

by Richmond Training Concepts

We’ve heard alot about heart attacks, but not as much about sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) incidents.  

So what’s the difference?  It’s a big one, and the SCA Foundation uses some memorable imagery to help us keep them straight:

HEART ATTACK: A ‘PLUMBING PROBLEM’ — The Person is Awake and the Heart is BeatingHeart attack (the medical term is myocardial infarction or MI) occurs when part of the heart’s blood supply is reduced or blocked, causing the heart muscle to become injured or die. The person is awake (conscious) and may complain of one or more of the signs and symptoms of heart attack.

How You Can Save a Life: Heart Attack

What to do:

  • Call 9-1-1 immediately
  • Have the person rest or lie down while waiting for EMS


What not to do:

  • Refrain from driving the person experiencing symptoms of heart attack to the hospital. The only rare exception might be when the hospital is very close by and you expect EMS to be delayed significantly in getting an ambulance to the scene.
  • Never drive yourself to the hospital if you are experiencing heart attack symptoms.
  • Do not delay more than five minutes from the onset of symptoms to call 9-1-1.
  • Do not hesitate to call 9-1-1 because you are embarrassed or don’t want to bother anyone. EMS is there for you. And, it is better to be safe than sorry.


SUDDEN CARDIAC ARREST: ‘AN ELECTRICAL PROBLEM’ —The Person is Not Awake and the Heart is Not BeatingSudden cardiac arrest (SCA) is different from heart attack. While heart attack is described as a “plumbing problem,” SCA is more of an “electrical problem” that prevents the heart from functioning effectively. Heart attack can lead to SCA, but there are many other causes, such as congenital abnormalities, severe heart failure, electrocution and drug overdose.”

How You Can Save a Life: Sudden Cardiac Arrest

What to do:

  • Call 9-1-1 immediately
  • Give CPR or at the very least chest compressions
  • Use AED


What not to do:

  • The worst thing for an SCA victim is to do nothing. Sometimes people hesitate to help because they are afraid they might do the wrong thing and hurt the victim. But the SCA victim is clinically dead and cannot get worse. Your actions can only help.


Our hearts work very hard for us — show them a little love by taking excellent care of yours and getting some simple, lifesaving CPR training to help someone else.